Joe Torre needs to reconsider his bullpen usage before he has no arms left in October.
Torre has the Dodgers (31-15) keeping a steady pace ahead of the surging San Diego Padres. Even with the aid of a 10-game winning streak, the Padres (23-22) have only crept within 7 ½ games of the Dodgers.
The question by many has been if Los Angeles can hold their major league best record while Manny Ramirez remains suspended amidst steroid allegations. When Ramirez returns on July 3rd, however, the Dodgers may have worked their way into another issue of much deeper concern.
Torre went to the bullpen 5 times on Sunday afternoon in an attempt to outduel the Angels manager Mike Scioscia. The Dodgers went on to lose the game, 10-7, and felt the effects of Torre’s micro-managing the next day.
On Monday Erik Stults took a 7-1 lead into the bottom of the 5th against the Rockies. After recording the first out, Stults walked the bases loaded and Torre was forced to remove him.
In this situation, Torre had no other choice. Stults had surrendered 7 walks in 4 2/3 innings and was showing no sign of gaining control. The problem for Torre was that his bullpen had been run so thin the previous week that he brought in Jeff Weaver to try to stop the bleeding.
Weaver is the last man for that job. He got Ryan Spilborghs to groundout, plating Dexter Fowler. Torre then elected to have Weaver pitch to Brad Hawpe rather than intentionally walking him to face the right-handed, and struggling, Garrett Atkins.
The decision to let Hawpe hit backfired and he stroked a two-run double into right center field on an off-speed pitch. Torre shouldn’t have allowed Weaver to throw to Hawpe. Atkins promptly followed with an RBI single up the middle and a 7-1 lead was suddenly 7-5.
It was shades of 2007 in Seattle for Weaver all over again.
All of this could have been avoided had Torre been more careful with his bullpen in recent days.
The Dodgers have used 4 or more relievers in 5 of the last 6 games including Monday. Weaver, who started Wednesday against the Mets, was one the few options Torre had after overworking the arms of Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario.
To see the effect Torre is having on his staff, lets take a look at Corey Wade. Wade has appeared in 15 games this season but only recorded 14 2/3 innings pitched. This would be normal for a left-handed specialist (like fellow Dodger Will Ohman who has 19 appearances and only 12 IP), but Wade doesn’t fit that description.
The decreased length of Wade’s outings has hurt his effectiveness. Take a look at the difference between last year and the first two months of 2009:
Wade is walking two times more batters and allowing almost double the hits per 9 innings compared to last season. All of this has resulted in a skyrocketed ERA and Wade having decreased confidence because of his shortened outings.
Perpetually toying with the bullpen has become Torre’s obsession. He attempts to limit the innings his starters and bullpen see early in the season in order to save them for the stretch run.
While he has the right idea by limiting innings on a day-to-day basis Torre is not seeing the downside of his methods.
Torre has a bad habit of making a call to the bullpen to get a pitcher warmed up, and then promptly sitting that pitcher without bringing him into the game. Watch a Dodger game and you will be amazed how often this occurs.
Over a 162-game season all of those warm-up tosses accumulate to take a toll on pitcher’s arm.
In addition, the over-reliance on the bullpen to hold leads and win games (closer Jonathon Broxton has 5 wins) signifies a lack of confidence in his starting pitchers.
Perhaps Torre would be better suited enlisting the advice of former Texas Rangers great and current Rangers president Nolan Ryan.
Ryan has been known for encouraging pitching coaches to disregard pitch counts and pay attention to what the player is doing on the mound rather than what a pitch chart shows.
The method of trying to stretch the arms of pitchers for more innings results in increased confidence in your pitchers. It gives them the feeling that the manager is behind their efforts. Ryan feels that if a pitcher thinks he is done in the 5th, you can go ahead and put him back out in the 6th because he still has something in the tank.
The Rangers staff, under guide of president Ryan and pitching coach Mike Maddux (brother of future hall of famer Greg), has shown a positive change this season.
Their starting pitchers have recorded 5 complete games, good enough to lead the majors. The Rangers lead the AL West and trail the Rex Sox only by percentage points for the AL’s best record, at 26-18.
Ryan may have a skewed view of how an arm rebounds from a night on the mound because he was gifted with one of the most durable arms in the history of the game. However, the methodology and mental approach Ryan implores is right.
It does no good for a starting pitcher to expect to come out of the game in the 5th or the 6th inning.
As a manager, you want your starter to have the mental approach that the game is theirs to win. You don’t want them expecting to rely on the bullpen to hold onto a lead for them.
Torre’s mad science of bullpen management gives his starters the mental approach that they are not going to throw a complete game.
He needs to make an adjustment to how he prepares his starters so that they can provide more innings and take pressure off of the already taxed bullpen.